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Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 98

Then Sualtam wheeled round his horse in anger and [pg 222] was about to depart when, with a start which the Grey made, his neck fell against the sharp rim of the shield upon his back, and it shore off his head, and the head fell on the ground. Yet still it cried its message as it lay, and at last Conor bade put it on a pillar that it might be at rest. But it still went on crying and exhorting, and at length into the clouded mind of the king the truth began to penetrate, and the glazed eyes of the warriors began to glow, and slowly the spell of Macha's curse was lifted from their minds and bodies. Then Conor arose and swore a mighty oath, saying: “The heavens are above us and the earth beneath us, and the sea is round about us; and surely, unless the heavens fall on us and the earth gape to swallow us up, and the sea overwhelm the earth, I will restore every woman to her hearth, and every cow to its byre.”154 His Druid proclaimed that the hour was propitious, and the king bade his messengers go forth on every side and summon Ulster to arms, and he named to them warriors long dead as well as the living, for the cloud of the curse still lingered in his brain.

With the curse now departed from them the men of Ulster flocked joyfully to the summons, and on every hand there was grinding of spears and swords, and buckling on of armour and harnessing of war-chariots for the rising-out of the province.155 One host came under Conor the King and Keltchar, son of Uthecar Hornskin, from Emania southwards, and another from the west along the very track of the host of Maev. And Conor's host fell upon eight score of [pg 223] the men of Erin in Meath, who were carrying away a great booty of women-captives, and they slew every man of the eight score and rescued the women. Maev and her host then fell back toward Connacht, but when they reached Slemon Midi, the Hill of Slane, in Meath, the Ulster bands joined each other there and prepared to give battle. Maev sent her messenger mac Roth to view the Ulster host on the Plain of Garach and report upon it. Mac Roth came back with an awe-striking description of what he beheld. When he first looked he saw the plain covered with deer and other wild beasts. These, explains Fergus, had been driven out of the forests by the advancing host of the Ulster men. The second time mac Roth looked he saw a mist that filled the valleys, the hill-tops standing above it like islands. Out of the mist there came thunder and flashes of light, and a wind that nearly threw him off his feet. “What is this?” asks Maev, and Fergus tells her that the mist is the deep breathing of the warriors as they march, and the light is the flashing of their eyes, and the thunder is the clangour of their war-cars and the clash of their weapons as they go to the fight: “They think they will never reach it,” says Fergus. “We have warriors to meet them,” says Maev. “You will need that,” says Fergus, “for in all Ireland, nay, in all the Western world, to Greece and Scythia and the Tower of Bregon156 and the Island of Gades, there live not who can face the men of Ulster in their wrath.”


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